Without doubt 2020 has been a terrible year and the global effect of COVID-19 has been devastating. Unfortunately, the pandemic has seen a surge in consumers being scammed, with millions of pounds being lost across the UK on everything from fake PPE and COVID-19 cures to romance scams and victims of bogus bank calls. A COVID-free future is looking more likely with the fantastic news of a vaccine and eligible people have already been vaccinated. However, the new vaccine brings new opportunities for scammers to target the public, so we jumped into action to put this guide together to keep you safe.
Whilst the internet is a great source of information and way to stay connected, it also has a downside with fake news making it hard to decipher between fact and fiction. Just some examples include claims the COVID-19 vaccine contains a micro-chip, that 5G mobile phone signals transmit the virus or that it contains aborted foetal tissue – all these claims have been rejected by scientists and doctors as false. Be on your guard for scientific sounding articles and news containing a one-sided view, especially on social media. For genuine information about the vaccine check out information sources such as the NHS website or World Health Organisation.
A few months back the introduction of contact tracing saw a spike in scams related to the new track and trace scheme, with scammers using it to prey on the vulnerable. Scams included callers posing as official NHS staff asking for money to take a COVID-19 test and bogus HMRC text messages promising COVID-19 tax rebates.
The new vaccine is a new opportunity for scammers, so here’s what you need to watch out for:
- Automated phone calls where you are asked to press a number to book a vaccine appointment. This scam targets the elderly who have followed the instructions on the automated call which then allows the criminals to charge their phone company and withdraw money from their account. There are also warnings about a similar vaccine booking scam sent by a text message directing the recipient to a link which then asks for personal details.
- Online ads or online pharmacies selling the vaccine or offering a great discount price to purchase it. These could appear as social media ads or sponsored ads on the internet or malicious domains posing as official websites.
- Counterfeit vaccines and promises of a cure for COVID-19. There is currently no cure for COVID-19 and claims made by Donald Trump and other public figures earlier this year that ‘hydroxychloroquine’ was a potential cure have been rejected by medical experts. There are reports from technology software companies that the sale of hydroxychloroquine for as little as $10 as well as fake COVID-19 vaccines are circulating on the dark web.
- If you are being asked for a payment towards receiving the vaccine, then it’s definitely a scam. This could include phone calls, emails, SMS messages or indeed a pushy visitor appearing unexpectedly at your front door, trying to create a sense of urgency. There is no cost to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine which is currently the only vaccine available and is only being offered by the NHS.
The vaccine on offer in the UK has been produced by Pfizer in association with BioNTech. There are other vaccines in development which are likely to become available soon, such as the one from Oxford University in collaboration with AstraZeneca plc.
Who is eligible for the vaccine?
The vaccine is currently being given to the following people*:
- Frontline health care workers
- Those living in a care homes for older adults
- Frontline social care works
- Care workers who work in a care home for older residents.
*Sourced from Gov.uk
The vaccine is then being offered to those aged 80 years and then on a tier-based system relating to age groups such as those 75 years and older, 70 and older for example. Full information can be viewed at gov.uk. If you are eligible you will be invited directly by your GP practice by letter, you will not be sent a text message or email so please be wary. If in doubt check with a family member, friend or neighbour about anything that appears suspicious.
The vaccine is in demand and there is a wait list to receive it. Some GP surgeries are calling patients from the wait list if someone does not turn up and this person would be required to attend as soon as possible. This is because once the vaccine is out of storage it needs to be used within 5 days. It’s also important to note that the vaccine also requires a double dose so make sure you follow guidance on this from your medical practice.
While the news of the vaccine is positive, existing social distancing guidelines still apply as the vaccine will take many months to be rolled out nationwide. Stay safe everyone and make sure you check out all the latest scams circulating at bogusbuster.org.